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The film follows the last 2 decades in the life of Hyakken Uchinda, a writer and teacher who retires in the war years of the early 1940's. His students venerate him in his old age, and join him and his family each year for a ritual birthday party, asking "are you ready?" to which he answers, "not yet," acknowledging that death may be near, but life still goes on.
Kurosawa is considered to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time and this, his final and touching film, is the perfect ending to a lifetime of cinematic achievements.
Akira Kurosawa was 83 years old when he made this, his serenely glorious final film. Kurosawa's eyesight was failing, so Madadayo would be the master's farewell to filmmaking, and one can hardly imagine a more lovely and loving way to end one of the greatest careers in motion picture history. Based on the literary works of Japanese author Hyakken Uchida, the film presents Uchida as its central character (named only "The Professor"), and begins in war-torn Tokyo with the sensei's retirement from teaching in 1943. He is considered "solid gold" by his legacy of former students, who support their beloved teacher as he focuses on writing and throw annual birthday parties in his honor. Each year they ask "Maadha kai?" ("Are you ready?"), to which the aging professor responds, "Madadayo!" ("Not yet!"), acknowledging that he will die someday, but only when he's ready.
While Madadayo may not be autobiographical, the professor (played with charming grace by Tatsuo Matsumura) is clearly Kurosawa--a beloved master reflecting on life, continuing to teach, and expressing gratitude for a long and rewarding career that was "not yet" over. This is a calm and simple film of peaceful resolution, in which the only major crisis is the loss of a cat--an episode both heartbreaking and, finally, as life affirming as the professor's benevolent wisdom. And while Kurosawa was criticized for being sentimental when Madadayo was released in Japan in 1993 (it didn't reach Western shores until 2000), there's an important distinction to be made between sentiment and the twilight serenity of one of the cinema's most eloquent humanitarians. Closing with a final dream image that's as beautiful as only dreams can be, Madadayo is, in its own way, as miraculous as any of Kurosawa's previous masterworks. --Jeff Shannon
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In the film's final scene, several students watch over the professor as he sleeps. He has been ill and they wonder what he is dreaming about. We become privy to the dream -- the professor is a young boy playing hide-and-seek. The children are waiting for him to hide, calling out Maadha Kai (are you ready?) and as he searches in the hay piles for a place to hide, he replies Madadayo (not yet), until he is distracted by the beautiful sky, and pauses to look at the surreal swirling clouds.
One cannot see this film without thinking of Kurosawa himself, surrounded by those who loved and respected him, enjoying life, looking back and dreaming of his past (Akira Kurosawa's Dreams had come out three years before). A lovely film which will be enjoyed by many but appreciated most by Kurosawa fans.
DVD extras include a trailer, filmographies and 6 beautiful watercolor storyboard illustrations. The film is in Japanese with optional English subtitles.
The story is so simple, and deeply personal that connection is easy. Starting at age 60, when the Professor is "officially an old man," his former students through him a birthday party. At the party, two things happen. First, he must drink a very large glass of beer in one breath. Second, his students ask him "Maadha kai?" ("Are you ready?"), and he sings back "Madadayo" ("Not yet.") Not yet ready to die.
Like the characters in the story, I too loved the professor, and felt that something would be missing from the world, the day "Madadayo" does not come ringing back in response. There are no villains, no life or death struggles, no sharp pains. Just wonderful people being excellent to each other, and making the best out of their brief time alive.
"Madadayo" is also deeply rooted in Japanese culture and sympathies, and this is the first Kurosawa film that I have seen where I feel I have a deeper understanding due to my time spent living in Japan. The enkais, the scenery, the values, it is all familiar. And familiarity and nostalgia are largely what "Madadayo" is about.
As other reviewers more eloquent than I have said, this film presents a touching look at the relationship between teachers and students, but in unique historical and personal circumstances. With World War II as its backdrop, "Madadayo" sticks to the relatively simple life of a high school German teacher and author and the lifelong relationships he has with many of his former students. The depth of the now-adult students' appreciation and friendship for their teacher manifests itself in a yearly celebration of the teacher's life, as well as everyday kindnesses (memorable incidents include the students' worries that the teacher's house is not protected from burglars and their efforts to 'correct' this problem by breaking into his house and finding out for themselves how the teacher will handle it, and my particular favorite, the loss of the teacher's pet cat and the heartbreaking emotions this brings to the characters).
This movie is not epic, nor does it contain much action. It does, however, have a lot of heart (which is a somewhat corny phrase, but truly fits this film). I give it my highest recommendations.
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